I would like to thank Sue D. for helping me with the plotting. Helen H. for an absolutely brilliant job as beta. Helen provided great editing and an education with tact and thoughtfulness. Liz as always for keeping me writing.
THE ONLY THING
Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.
- Albert Schweitzer
“If it's not bleeding, don't touch it.” Lee licked his lips and twisted his head away from Chip. “Shouldn't you be on lookout… or something?”
“Something. Pat’s out there and this is very nasty, I need to clean it out.”
“Leave it alone, you can't do anything Jamie can't do better. Please, Chip, don't touch it.”
Lee's voice was so soft, if Chip hadn't been so close he wouldn’t have heard him. Chip looked up from the half hidden, bloody bandage to Lee's hand resting on his sleeve and then to Lee’s face. Lee’s eyes were closed, his brow creased with concentration, his breathing shallow and rasping.
“We're a long way from Jamie and this is very dirty.” Chip covered Lee's hand with his and waited until Lee opened his eyes. “I'm sorry, buddy, I've got to try and disinfect it and put a clean bandage on it.”
“Hurts, is all.” Lee turned his head away from Chip's scrutiny.
“I'm going to put some water on it, let the water loosen the bandage.”
“Leave it, Chip, leave it alone.” There was more of Lee in that, less a suggestion than an order and Chip hesitated. “I'm worried about infection, it should be cleaned out.”
“Bandage is dirty…wound isn't.” Lee looked directly at Chip. “Leave it be.”
Chip turned on his penlight and shaded it carefully with his hand while he tried to get a good look at the bandage wrapped around Lee's chest and stomach. Most of it was invisible under his t-shirt and jacket, but he could see enough to confirm that the outside of the bandage was certainly dirty.
“Turn that light out,” Lee hissed in a stronger voice, sounding for a moment like the Captain of the Seaview and not the nearly dead man he and Patterson had picked up in the little village four hours ago.
Chip clicked the light off. “You want some water?” He figured as much blood, as Lee had no doubt lost, he'd be thirsty.
“Yeah,” Lee's voice fell away to a whisper as he spoke.
Chip instantly felt guilty that he'd forced that display of command from Lee with his attempt to remove the bandage. He offered Lee the water and when his friend couldn’t manage to move his arm enough to get the bottle to his mouth did that for him as well.
Lee took a couple of swallows and then gave a pull on Chip's arm where his hand rested. “Thanks.”
“You need to drink, you've probably lost a lot of blood.”
“I can't, I'll lose it if I do,” Lee leaned his head back against the dirt bank. “Bit nauseous.”
“We're supposed to meet the flying sub at 0100 hours, they'll be there the next three nights.” Chip smiled at Lee although he doubted the other man could see him in the darkness. “I imagine the admiral will have the flying sub there at 0100 and stay until we get there or hell freezes over.”
“No, I agree, we're still at least thirty miles from the cove, can you go a little further though? I'd like to get as close as we can before we hole up for the day.”
“Needs must.” Lee gave him a small squeeze where his hand still rested on Chip's arm.
Chip put his free hand on Lee's face feeling how warm his skin was before pushing the damp hair back off his forehead. “Did they give you any drugs at the clinic? I can give you some pain medication if they didn't shoot you full of drugs.”
“Doesn't feel like they gave me anything.”
Chip dug the morphine ampoule out of the first aid kit and pulled Lee’s jacket down enough so he could give him half the shot in his shoulder. He sat squatting beside his friend until he saw Lee relax a little against the damp, dirt bank and then turned to check in with Patterson thirty yards away on lookout.
“How’s the skipper?” Pat asked softly as Chip crawled into his improvised blind down hill off the trail they’d been following for the past four hours.
“Not great.” Chip paused to look back at Lee’s still form picked out by the garish green of his night vision goggles. He sighed softly and leaned back against the big tree that was hiding them from the trail. He’d been afraid he wouldn’t find Lee. That his friend had run out of luck and he’d just disappear into Russia and never be seen or heard of again. Two weeks they’d been cruising up and down the hundred miles of coast, wandering in and out of small villages, relying upon ONI and Russian Intelligence contacts to try and find a trace of their lost landing party.
This was the third foray Chip and Patterson had made to follow up on unusual radio traffic on the outskirts of rebel territory. Kowalski and O’Brien had been their other away team, taking turns investigating possible Crane sightings, often both parties ashore at the same time.
Chip could feel the anger building again. ONI had informed them that the landing party had failed to make their final extraction rendezvous and was presumed lost. That was it, miss the rendezvous and as far as ONI was concerned the mission was a failure and the team dead. Chip took a deep breath to allow his anger to cool.
He’d been so glad to see Lee come struggling down the muddy lane of that farming village, leaning on some old lady who looked like she should be starring in a Russian fairy tale. He smiled slightly; leave it up to Lee to find someone to mother him even in the middle of Siberia.
“Go ahead, sir, I’ve got this.” Patterson nodded toward Lee.
Chip gave him a quick squeeze to his shoulder and slipped back down the hill. He wanted to check on Lee again, make sure he was really there and then he wanted to get him back to Seaview as fast as he could. Back to Seaview and back to sea where he belonged. Out of this wood and out of this country where he most definitely didn’t belong.
Later, he wasn’t sure how much later, but sometime after Chip gave him the morphine, he woke, still alive, still wet and cold. He could see his friend and Patterson as dark shadows outlined by the moonlight, Chip's paler hair picking up enough light for him to identify the one from the other. He was so glad to have these men here. Men he could trust.
He was very tired of making his own way, of being alone. He’d been eluding separatists and moving east for days. All the time half lost in the forest and his fever, avoiding any signs of civilization, fearful that he’d again end up a prisoner. He’d been two days with no food and at the end of his strength when he’d approached the small outlying farm near the village of Uelen. That he’d ended up in a village loyal to the government and not the separatists was the first piece of good luck he’d had on the mission.
He opened his eyes and looked at Chip and Patterson again. When the old woman who was acting as his nurse told him there were two strangers in town asking about the injured man he’d been sure his pursuers had found him. He’d escaped into the woods overlooking the clinic, unable to go very far but afraid to stay. He’d hidden in the forest studying the strangers, watching them wander about the village. When he recognized Chip and Pat he’d been sure they must be part of some fever dream. Chip and Pat in Uelen.
He was so glad not to be alone.
“Lee, we have to go on, can you walk?”
“Sure.” It came out in a whisper. When no one replied he tried again. “Yeah, sure.” Stronger this time. He doubted it though and wondered why Chip bothered to ask. They'd stopped because he couldn't go on and that had only been… he realized he’d lost track of time. The pain was less so maybe they’d been sitting here for a while. Maybe this was another night?
“Help me up.” He reached out toward the shadow that was Chip. When he felt his friend grasp his hand, he didn't have the strength to return his squeeze, let alone get up.
“Lee, wait a bit, until we figure out where we're going.”
Lee watched the two men moving in the shadows. He knew they were making decisions in which he should be participating. He opened his mouth slightly trying to get more air. Maybe he should have told Chip to give him the whole morphine dose.
“Patterson is going to start off helping you, while I scout ahead.”
Lee jerked awake with a start. He hadn't heard Chip coming. The start forced an involuntary groan from him. He had to be more careful. He had to stay alert and keep quiet.
“We've got to go, Lee, Pat's going to help you.”
Lee nodded into the darkness. After a minute, he felt someone's hand on his upper arm and he grabbed hold of Pat’s forearm with his other hand and tried to force himself to his feet. The dizziness nearly overwhelmed him and he thought he was falling. His stomach revolted at the sudden movement and he swallowed convulsively to keep the water Chip had given him in its proper place.
“Hang on, Skipper, I've got you.”
He could hear Patterson talking to him but he couldn't make out the words as he swung in space. He concentrated on the pain in his stomach, using it to find his balance.
“I don't know about this, Mr. Morton.” Patterson's tone belied his strong grip.
“Let's go,” Lee managed, not sure if he’d said it or thought it.
“We’ll carry you.”
“No, I can go for a while.” Lee managed that a little better, but he still needed to wait for Pat to take the first step and then it took a moment before he could remember how to make his leg move forward.
The march faded to a blur
after the first few minutes. Each step
an act of will against the exhaustion that threatened to put him out between
one step and the next. Had it not been
for the awful pain he would have slept walking.
He tried to take as much weight as he could on his own, but he knew
Patterson was practically carrying him. He
couldn't imagine they were covering any ground in the darkness with him slowing
them down. There was no point in asking
them to leave him. They’d no more leave
him than he’d leave them. Still it would
be better. He could sleep and his
friends would be safe. But he said
nothing, hadn't the strength to say anything.
He concentrated on taking the next step, and the next, and the next.
An eternity later, they stopped and sat. After what seemed like seconds he was up again, this time with Chip’s arm around his waist. The pain of that support was awful, squeezing against the wounds and the broken ribs. He said nothing, Chip’s closeness a reassurance worth any amount of pain.
Lee woke lying on the ground leaning back against a warm body. An arm was across his chest, a hand he knew, holding his jacket in a fist. It was Chip behind him. Lee looked up from his contemplation of Chip's hand. It was daylight. The woods were so thick it was difficult to determine how late it was, but it was day for certain. He carefully brought his legs up to ease some of the pain in his middle and felt Chip shift against his back.
“Hey, buddy,” came from behind him. “We're about fifteen miles from the beach, one more night march and we should be there.”
Lee nodded, too tired to speak, they'd gone fifteen miles last night. Fifteen miles and it'd almost killed him. That endless night of walking had worn him down until he felt as if Chip’s arm around him was all that held him in the world. Lee closed his eyes and slept, his back warm against his friend.
The next time he opened his eyes Chip was sitting beside him leaning back against the big tree.
“Help me up.” Chip lifted his shoulders and Lee managed to turn so he could rest against a part of the fir tree’s huge roots. “What time is it?”
“1100, we stopped around 0400 while it was still dark, not that it ever seems to get too bright here.” Chip was rummaging in his small knapsack as he spoke and passed Lee a bottle of water, cover already removed. Lee took the bottle in his good hand. The water was cold and tasted vaguely of the plastic bottle. It was wonderful. Lee drank as much as he thought he could keep down and passed the bottle back to Chip.
“About fifty yards up the bank near the trail.”
Lee nodded and looked around their little campsite. Chip had laid a ground cloth down on the perpetually wet mud of the forest floor and the two of them had been sharing it. The rest of their camp consisted of Chip and Patterson's knapsacks piled against the roots of the fir tree. Lee glanced up into the canopy over their heads. No water was currently falling so they were between showers. Late autumn in northeastern Russia meant it mostly rained, sometimes it sleeted and occasionally it snowed, but mostly it rained. He’d been wet and cold ever since he arrived a lifetime ago. Now, thanks to the fever he wasn’t cold any more, but he was still wet.
“Can you eat something?”
Lee shook his head, “More water would be good, though.”
Chip pulled out an energy bar and they sat side by side eating and drinking, listening to the noise of the forest.
“Pretty amazing place,” Chip offered. “But maybe you should vacation somewhere else next time.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.” Lee’s eyes roamed around their hiding place, and then settled on Chip, who was conspicuously not looking at him. “What’re you doing here?”
“Rescuing you, of course.”
“You know what I mean.”
“The admiral doesn't quit as easily as your friends in ONI.” Lee made no comment and Chip continued. “The district Doctor reported he’d treated a gunshot wound in Uelen.” At Lee's quizzical look Chip smiled. “Sparks has been monitoring all of the airwaves in the area with a new piece of software, pulling up any reports of injuries. We've been checking out the clinics and local doctors that report anything unusual. With you almost two weeks over due we figured you’d either been injured or captured or both and sooner or later we would intercept something.”
Lee passed Chip a small piece of oilcloth. “The whole thing was a complete snafu from start to finish. I got some photos. Hang on to that for me, okay?”
Chip took the piece of cloth. The edge of the photo memory card that had cost so much in blood and pain was hard under his hand. He slipped it into his pocket.
“I’m fairly sure it wasn’t what ONI was hoping for, but that’s all there was where they sent us.” Lee looked over at his friend.
Chip was scowling his most I hate ONI look and after a moment Lee nodded and leaned his head back against the tree. He couldn’t blame Chip, he wasn’t too happy with his handlers at ONI either. “We got in the compound and got the photos but that brought most of the rebels down on us.
“How did you end up in that little village?”
“Mike was killed getting the pictures and Steve wounded. We were on the run for four days before I had to get him medical help. Turned out the safe doctor they gave us in Anadyr was long gone, replaced with a man more loyal to the separatists than the government. We weren't at the clinic two hours when the place was overrun with rebels. They never gave Steve a chance.” Lee stopped talking, lost in the remembering and the mourning.
Chip nodded his head. “The admiral talked to ONI and his friends in Russian Intelligence, so we knew you were in trouble, but once you landed and they lost contact we didn’t know who’d survived or where you were.” Chip gave Lee the water bottle, placing it in his friend's hand and closing his fingers around it. The two men sat together in silence while Lee sipped on the water.
When the water was gone Lee spoke again. “I told the rebels I'd found Steve in the forest and was bringing him in to the clinic. They didn't believe me but they couldn't prove otherwise, weren’t sure if I was some useless local or some valuable hostage. As time passed they went with the useless local idea. They got careless, I got away.” Lee glanced at Chip out of the corner of his eye. “Not quite as clean a get away as it might have been. Ended up in Uelen looking for a meal and a band-aid.”
Chip looked away from Lee and up toward the dense, pine boughs overhead. “Couldn't prove otherwise, huh?” When Lee started to lose his grip on the bottle Chip reached over and retrieved it. “You're going to have to tell me at some point how badly hurt you are.”
Lee winked. “Not dead yet.”
Chip had the good grace to smile back at him. “Too close, Lee, way too close.”
Lee made no comment and after a moment Chip shook his head. “I'm going to go relieve Patterson, he's been up there for a couple of hours. Want me to help you lie back down?”
Lee hesitated. He hated being an invalid.
“We've got another tough walk to do before 0100 tomorrow.” Chip reasoned, reading his hesitation so easily that Lee smiled at him and nodded.
“Yes, mother, you may help but I want another drink first.”
Chip passed Lee a water bottle and then fussed about getting him as comfortable as he could before going up to relieve Patterson on his watch.
Pat was better than Chip as he asked fewer questions. He still fussed a bit, asking if he was comfortable, did he need anything? Lee reassured him enough that Pat ate one of the energy bars and then lie down beside him and fell asleep.
Lee lay awake listening to the sounds of the woods and watching the latest rain fall and bounce on the plastic sheet that covered them, too sore to sleep and too tired to move. He was feeling the cold now. His fever must be dropping. Somewhere in thinking about the execution of Steve and wondering what he could have done differently he fell asleep.
Chip woke him with a hiss in
his ear and a hand over his mouth. Lee
froze at the hiss and didn't need the hand.
They laid in their little camp listening to the sounds of a group of men
talking as they passed on the trail above their hiding place. After the last of the men passed Chip started
to say something, but Lee's quick jerk on his arm stopped him. The two of them remained still for another
minute until they heard a lone man walking quietly along the trail, rear guard
to the patrol.
“That should be the last of them.”
“I'm sorry, Lee.”
“You did nothing, except get me out of there, for which I shall be eternally grateful.”
Chip refused to meet his eyes. “I nearly blew it.”
“You’re doing great. Good camp, good guard, don't beat yourself up about what you don't know.”
“Man, if that isn't the kettle calling the pot black.” Chip reached over and put his hand on Lee’s forehead. “How you doing?”
Lee changed the subject. “What time is it?”
Chip pulled a grimy sleeve back from his watch. “1540.”
“Get Pat, please.”
Chip slipped away and half crawled, half climbed up the muddy bank. By the time he and Patterson arrived back in their camp Lee had managed to lever his shoulders up into a half sitting position against the roots.
“Did you get a look at that patrol?”
“There were six of them, Skipper, and then tail end Charlie after they'd all passed.”
“Did they have uniforms?”
“Greenish wool coats mostly, but no insignias at all that I could see.”
“Wool caps or camo hats.”
“Separatists,” Lee said. “The government doesn't usually patrol here and when they do it's in greater strength and they're like the U.S. Army, an insignia for every unit and a badge for everything they do.”
“So what now?”
“We wait. They won't keep marching once it gets dark, too cold and wet.”
“They're between us and the ocean,” Chip said.
“Yeah, they are,” Lee agreed, “and they'll probably camp right on the trail. There isn’t another village this far east for thirty miles. With the couple of hours daylight they’ve got they should get past our cut-off down to the coast.”
Patterson nodded and crawled up the bank to sit in his hiding place beside the trail. Chip helped Lee to lie back down in his nest of ground cover and knapsacks before sitting beside him. The two talked in a desultory fashion about Chip’s trip to the village, Chip mostly talking, Lee listening.
Two hours later Chip woke Lee and with Patterson’s help got him carefully to his feet. Patterson folded up the ground cloth and kicked loose leaves around where they’d been camped to hide their presence. Chip stood supporting most of Lee’s weight with an arm around his middle so Lee was leaning against him. Lee looked over at his friend in the dark.
“So does this mean we’re going steady?”
“Don’t get fresh with me or I’ll let Pat take you home.”
Lee smiled slightly as he stood with his head resting against Chip’s shoulder waiting for their trek to begin. The most difficult part of the walk was getting up the steep muddy bank to the trail. Once they got to the path the walking was easier and they made slow steady progress for several hours.
“We’re fairly close to where we need to leave the trail and head west for the coast,” Chip said after helping Lee to the ground and squatting beside him. “The admiral came up with a transmitter that sends a low frequency pulse. We can find them with this receiver if we’re within a few hundred yards. Whatever they’re doing to block satellite reception doesn’t affect them. I put one at the cutoff from this trail and more along the way through the woods to the rendezvous. We’ve only got about five miles to go once we leave the trail.” Chip handed Lee one of the small transmitters. “Keep it close. I don’t want to lose you again.”
Lee nodded his head, aware that Chip could see him with his night vision goggles even if he couldn’t see Chip. Five miles didn’t sound like much but he knew once they left the trail and headed into the woods and swamp toward the ocean they’d be moving much slower. “What time is it?”
“Almost midnight. We should be okay. Still have six, almost seven hours before there’s very much light.”
“One hour until your rendezvous time with the flying sub and what, two hours until he leaves?”
“They’ll wait for us.” Chip said with certainty. “We didn’t make last night’s pick up, they’ll be worried and wait.”
Ten minutes later someone yelled at them from the side of the trail. They’d found the lookout for the camp of rebels who’d passed them in the afternoon. Pat threw himself to the ground with his rifle ready while Chip hauled Lee into the brush. They were well into the woods by the time they heard more shouting and the rebels opened fire. They tried to move as quietly as they could in the deep cover, relying upon stealth to make their escape.
Lee thought they might make it if they didn’t have him along. He couldn’t pick his legs up high enough to step over the dead trees that littered the ground. Every time they came to any sort of an obstruction Chip had to stop and help him maneuver over it. The rest of the time he was a more or less dead weight hanging from his friend’s shoulder. As they tried to hurry it was all he could do to remain conscious with the increased pain their haste was causing.
Their slow progress continued for fifteen minutes to the accompaniment of intermittent gunfire and muzzle flashes that gave the whole affair a sense of unreality, like some sort of slow motion war movie. He was about to beg Chip to stop and let him take his chances shooting it out with the rebels when Pat cried out and fell to the ground.
Chip got Lee down against a tree and handed him his rifle before turning to go back for Patterson who’d been covering their retreat. Lee twisted around, involuntarily grunting with pain, as he brought his knee up and rested the rifle on it. Most of the firing was coming to the north and was now a considerable distance away. He held the rifle steady and worked to control his breathing. Panting the way he was he’d be lucky to hit the broad side of a barn.
In a few minutes Chip was back with Patterson.
“How bad is it?”
“I’m okay, Skipper, I stepped in some kind of trap.”
“A forest full of who knows what, being shot at by terrorists and we get stopped by an old mink trap?” Chip spoke with an uncharacteristic harshness as he helped Patterson sit down on the ground next to Lee.
“How bad is it?”
“Bad enough, Lee, he’s going to have trouble walking.” Chip spoke as he cut away at Patterson’s pant leg with his knife.
“I can walk, wrap it up, it’ll bear my weight.”
They needed a new plan but between the pounding of his heart from the adrenaline rush caused by the ambush and the pain in his gut from being dragged through the woods by Chip, Lee could hardly pull two thoughts together. “They seem to be moving off north.”
“They’ll be back,” Patterson said sadly.
“It’s a big forest, maybe not,” Lee offered, knowing if he wasn’t reassuring enough he’d never get the two men to do what he was about to order done. “Chip, use the duct tape in the first aid kit. Wrap up Pat’s foot and ankle with it right over his boot. Wrap it up good and tight.” Lee watched for a moment as Chip dug through the knapsack before continuing. “You’re going to have to leave me.”
He’d known this was going to make Chip angry so he wasn’t surprised at how tight the other man’s voice sounded. This was going to be very hard for Chip.
Lee reached over and grabbed his friend’s arm. “I’m sorry, I’m at the limit of what I can do, I can’t go any further.”
Lee needed to make sure that Chip didn’t feel any responsibility for this; it had to be on him. If this worked out as it very probably would, he didn’t want Chip living the rest of his life thinking there was something else he could have done.
“We get Pat’s leg wrapped up and he’ll be able to walk on it and I can carry you.”
“That’s not going to work and we all know it.”
“We’ve gotten this far. It isn’t much more than four miles, maybe a bit more.” Chip looked off to the east as if he could see the ocean through the trees.
“You need to leave me here, get some help and come back.”
“I can carry you.”
Chip was kneeling beside Lee, wrapping the tape around Pat’s foot. Lee reached over and gently squeezed Chip’s arm.
“I know, Chip, but I’ve got at least two broken ribs, you pick me up and you’re likely to put one through some part of my anatomy that I need.”
They all looked up silently as another burst of gunfire sounded off to their north, perhaps five hundred yards away. The flashes were dimly visible through the foliage of the trees followed a moment later by the sound.
“They’re still moving north, they’ve missed us, we’re okay.” Lee tried to put as much confidence as he could into that last part. He was so tired it was difficult to keep his words from slurring.
“We aren’t leaving you. We didn’t come all this way and go through this to leave you to die, isn’t happening. We’ll make a stretcher and carry you.”
“You can’t and you know it. You need to make the rendezvous and get back here with enough men to carry me out or we’re all going to end up either buzzard food or back where I started in this disaster.”
Chip didn’t say anything but Lee could see the other man’s anger and frustration in the shape of his dark shadow.
“Now let’s find some place I can stay out of sight, so you two can get going.”
Chip made a final appeal. “We don’t need to both go.
“I don’t need a minder, I need a rescuer. It’s going to take both of you to get the Zodiac through the surf and far enough out to sea so you can use the radio or they’ll pick up your transmission and be all over you in ten minutes. You both go. And that, Mr. Morton, is an order.” When he saw Chip stiffen and pull back Lee reached over and grabbed his arm. “I’m sorry, Chip, there’s no point in one of you sitting here with me. You either get back before someone finds me and all is well or someone stumbles over me and I’m screwed. There’s no way in either scenario that you being here makes for a better outcome. You both go. That’s everyone’s best chance.”
He knew the pain Chip was feeling at the inevitable nature of this decision and how much he hated it. He knew because he knew how he’d feel were he in Chip’s place. He wasn’t sure he could leave Chip, wounded and surrounded by his enemies. He played his final card.
“You need to get Pat back, we’re done talking about it.” Lee tried to spare Chip as much pain as he could by making it an order and not a shared decision.
It took them five minutes to find a fairly good blind in the roots of one of the many firs. The tree had a low spot eroded out around its roots and offered at least the illusion of shelter from the cold rain. Chip pulled out the ground cloth and tried to make as comfortable a place as possible. Lee allowed Patterson to get him settled among the roots and fallen branches. Once in position he had a good line of sight along their back trail and to the north where they could still hear intermittent gunfire. Not the most disciplined group of fighters, he thought as the rebels continued to shoot at what he hoped was nothing and not some passing trapper.
“Leave me the grenades, a rifle and Pat’s goggles.” As they passed him the equipment Lee placed it where he could reach it. Digging in one of the knapsacks he grabbed a bottle of water and the survival kit. He set the water aside and pulled out the fishing line stored inside the flap of the survival kit. He took one of the grenades and wrapped the line around it several times.
“Chip, take this about fifty yards north of here and wedge the grenade in a tree and then stretch out all the remaining line. Once you have the line tied off pull the pin. Be careful.”
Chip nodded his understanding of the simple booby trap and slogged off in the rain to do Lee’s bidding. In two minutes, Chip was back and squatting down in front of Lee.
“Please what? Please be able to walk? Please get us all killed? Please sit here with no weapon and let them take me again?”
“Yeah, something like that.” Chip spoke softly and put his hand on Lee’s shoulder.
Silence returned as the two men looked at each other, Chip’s hand still on Lee’s shoulder. Lee reached up and covered it with his own. He’d known Chip longer than anyone else in his life. He’d thought of him as his brother for most of that time. He was glad that if one of them had to stay and one of them had to walk away he got the easy job of staying. After a moment, he dropped his hand back down to the rifle lying across his legs.
“Go, buddy, I’ll be here when you get back one way or the other.”
“One way or the other, what does that mean, one way or the other?” Chip was suddenly very angry, his face inches from Lee’s face, practically spitting in his fury. “What’re you going to do with that other grenade, one way or the other?”
“I’ll be here, if I’m not, don’t come looking. I won’t go with them, do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand you perfectly. Now you listen to me, you had better be here because if you aren’t I will never, never forgive you.” Chip grabbed Lee’s head with both hands and tilted his face towards him. “You be here. I may never forgive you anyway, but you be here.”
“I love you too, buddy.” Lee reached up and gave Chip’s wrist a quick squeeze. “Now get going, the admiral hates to be kept waiting. Pat, you be careful.”
“We’ll be right back, Skipper,” Patterson said, gripping Lee’s shoulder briefly in farewell.
The two men turned and slogged off, Chip with Patterson’s arm over his shoulders, headed east toward the sea. Lee leaned his head back against the rough bark of the tree. It had taken all of what little energy he had left to keep that front up for Chip. He guessed he must still have been running off the adrenaline from the ambush. Now, even knowing the woods were full of men intent on killing him, he couldn’t keep his eyes open.
He was glad to be done with the agonizing journey. He opened his eyes and looked up at the sky. It had stopped raining. He could see one or two stars through the thick leaves. Great. All he needed was for the rain to clear and a good Siberian cold front to move in. He hadn’t heard any gunfire in several minutes. They could easily be circling back around to search this area now that they’d stopped shooting at every sound in the darkness. He had to stay alert for long enough to make sure Chip and Patterson got away.
The trunk behind him and the roots he was sitting against became increasingly uncomfortable as time passed and the last shot of morphine wore off. As the pain in his stomach increased the desire to lie down became a kind of desperation. He was afraid if he moved too much he would loose his somewhat precarious purchase on the tree and fall over and he doubted he’d have the strength to get himself up again. He thought that Chip and Pat had been gone for at least two hours. They should be almost to the water, or even in the Zodiac. He allowed his head to lean back against the tree.
He must have slept; he didn’t think he’d passed out because the grenade exploding woke him instantly. He could hear someone screaming so he knew it hadn’t been some hapless deer that set it off. He sure hoped it wasn’t the hunter come to check Pat’s trap.
It hadn’t been any trapper. He could hear the men yelling and thanks to the modern marvel of Pat’s night vision goggles he could see them as well. When two of them moved in his direction he shot and killed one of them and maybe wounded the other. He knew if he shot again they’d have his position. He waited, scanning the area to his front, listening for what was invisible behind him.
In the end he was glad he’d saved the second grenade. He saw one of them moving off to his left and when he shot him he heard more than saw two others rush at him from the north. He managed to pull the pin and throw the grenade in time to stop one of them. The other kept coming, screaming at him in fury or fear. Lee grabbed for his rifle, knowing he could never get it up in time to fire.
He didn’t need to shoot. The man kept screaming and ran right past his hiding place and on into the night. He wasn’t sure if the man had been wounded or so frightened by the grenade that he’d simply lost control. He listened carefully for a long while only to wake and realize somewhere in the listening he’d fallen asleep or passed out.
After he dozed off and nearly tumbled out of his blind for the third or fourth time he knew he needed to do something. He pushed the rifle away; he’d never have the strength to use it again. Throwing that grenade had maybe saved his life for a while, but he thought it might have done something very bad to those broken ribs. If there were more rebels it would need to be the pistol.
He spent an eternity shifting and moving around until he was lying on his side across the roots half around the tree. It was, if anything, less comfortable than the position he’d been in before, but he tried to console himself, change was good.
He held the admiral’s little transmitter in his hand like a talisman, feeling the smooth shape of the plastic capsule that encased it. The admiral had invented this to find him. The United States Navy hadn’t been able to find a means of communicating through the network of satellite interference the rebels had created around this part of eastern Russia, but Admiral Nelson had. Well, not exactly a means of communicating, since Chip hadn’t been able to contact Seaview any better than Lee’s SEAL team had been able to contact ONI. Still, Nelson had found a way to help Chip find him and once he’d found him bring him back to Seaview.
The admiral had kept searching for him when ONI had stopped. When it was easy to say he was dead and not a bother to anyone Nelson had kept looking, had spent time in his lab thinking about how to save him. Lee held that very close as the hours passed and the pain in his stomach grew and it became harder and harder to stay in his perch of roots. He thought about the admiral looking for him, inventing for him, Chip and Pat walking through a hostile forest to find him, carrying him through the night to save him. When the chills got very bad he wrapped his arms around his middle and thought about how he’d gone from having no one and nothing to having friends that would invent transmitters and walk through forests for him.
He wasn’t sure if he passed out or fell asleep but it was one or the other because he woke up on his back off his ground cloth, lying in the mud. The cool felt good on his legs where they were in the water of a big puddle. He was very hot and he wondered if maybe the cool water would help with the fire in his stomach. He let go of his middle with one hand and tried to reach the water. His upper body was still too high up on the roots and he couldn’t extend his arm far enough. He knew it wouldn’t be good to drink the water, but he was so thirsty he thought he would happily take his chances could he reach it. He wondered whether that coolness of the water would make up for the pain of rolling down the bank. He’d nearly decided to do it when he remembered his bottle of water.
It took him a long time to find the bottle. When he did it was because he saw the plastic glinting in the light and realized that it was morning. He’d made it through the night. He’d known when he sent Chip away that there was very little chance he would still be alive when he got back. He had a day and part of a night to get through before they could hope to come back for him. He looked up at no stars and black leaves that he could distinguish from lighter colored sky. Not daylight yet, but soon, perhaps half an hour.
He drank a little of the water, savoring the wetness and considered pouring some of it over his head. He was hot but he knew the day was cold. He could see the ice crystals on the mud around him. He was wet, if he waited he’d be plenty cool in a little while.
He pictured sickbay and imagined he was lying on a dry bunk. Not normally his favorite place but the pain and sickbay were tied in his head and that made it easy to visualize. He pictured the bunk Jamie always put him in when he had him in his clutches. He put the admiral and Chip next to his bunk. He thanked them for the search, for the rescue.
For the friendship.
He thought about the admiral and Chip. Chip had taught him about brothers and families and friends. Nelson had taught him about men and fathers. He was so lucky.
Either the cold or the exhaustion and pain or the fever got away from him. When he got a good grasp of who and where again, the day was bright sunlight and cold wind. He remembered waking several times but little else. He found the water bottle but the cap was off and it was empty. He didn’t know if he’d drunk it or spilled it but it was gone and he would kill for a drink. He was lying on his back beside the tree, mostly out of the puddle and very cold. He tried to pull his legs up to conserve more heat but the mud had frozen, capturing his clothes and he didn’t have the strength to pull free of the ice.
He thought about Chip and the rescue party. They couldn’t take a chance on being seen so they wouldn’t be able to get to shore until dark. He studied the sky above him. It was bright where he could see a little of it through dark trees. Midmorning he thought. Another nine or ten hours before they could get a landing party to the shore. They wouldn’t be back for him until eleven, maybe twelve hours. He was shivering now and he didn’t think it would matter when they arrived.
When next he woke he thought at first he’d succeeded in making a new reality of the woods and pain. There was Chip with the eyes that were so blue they seemed otherworldly. He’d never told Chip about his eyes, that they were spooky. He’d grown up with Latinos and African-Americans, some times an Asian or Middle-eastern kid would get thrown in the mix. But all dark skinned, brown-eyed people. Even the social workers were dark eyed people.
There were blue-eyed kids at that fancy school the Cranes sent him to in an effort to make him into something they wanted. But not like Chip, he’d never seen eyes like Chip’s until that day he’d walked into their room at the Academy. He’d found them spooky for a long time, combined with Chip’s open friendliness they’d given him an unguarded look that Lee hadn’t trusted. No one could be that guileless. He’d waited for weeks to find out that his roommate was an axe murderer or a child molester. He couldn’t believe anyone could be so open and honest. He was always amused that people couldn’t read Chip’s feelings in his face. To him he was the easiest person he knew to understand. He was the way he looked, good, honest, and brave, the perfect friend.
“Here, drink some of this, only a little.” Chip lifted his head up slightly so he could drink from the water bottle. “That’s enough, you drink too much you’ll be sick.” Chip took the water away and gently lowered Lee’s head back down to the ground. “We’ll have you out of here and home in no time, just hang with me for a little longer. We need to get you into something dry and we’ll be on our way.”
“Chip?” Lee could feel other hands removing his wet clothes and shifting his body so he cried out with the sudden return of the pain.
“Yeah, buddy, I got you?” Chip’s hands were warm on his face as he brushed off the mud. “It’s good, Lee.”
He was confused and out of sync with time, it was daylight and Chip was back. Lee closed his eyes and let the morphine carry him away from the forest, and the cold and pain. Chip was here and he was going home.
When Lee woke up it was in sickbay. He was dry and warm. He could remember lying in the roots of the tree. He wondered for a moment if he was imagining all this but then realized his stomach hurt too much for it to be a dream. This was real. He was home.
“Welcome back, Skipper, you’ve been back on the boat for almost twelve hours.”
Lee blinked a couple of times until he could focus on Jamie who was leaning over him smiling. Lee turned his head to look around and groaned softly as the small movement started an avalanche of pain. He tried to put his hand on his stomach but someone had grabbed his wrist and was holding his arm on the bed.
“Don’t move, Skipper, I’m going to give you something to help with the pain.” Jamieson moved out of his line of sight and he could see Chip looking at him, his eyes an icy blue.
He realized now it was Chip’s hand holding his wrist pinned to the bunk. He tried to smile at his friend but he could already feel Jamie’s something for the pain ruining his coordination and he didn’t know if he’d smiled or not. He tried to say he was sorry but didn’t know if he’d spoken or not.
“Not now, Lee, we’ll talk about it later, just get through this and we’ll talk about it.”
“Go to sleep, we can talk later.”
Lee had to be content with that because he found he couldn’t say anything more and somewhere in that realization he must have fallen asleep. When he woke the admiral was bent over a lap top computer cursing softly as he angrily punched keys with an obvious disregard for the well being of the machine. Lee guessed he must have made a noise because the admiral looked up at him.
“You look a little better than the last time you woke up. Here.” Nelson offered him a glass and straw. The water was cool and wonderful on his dry throat. “Not too much.”
“When?” He managed to get out past what felt like someone else’s mouth. He had a hard time coordinating his lips and tongue to form the words and thought more water might have helped.
“You’ve been back for a bit over twenty four hours, we were getting worried about you.” Nelson seemed very happy about something and Lee tried to smile but with returning consciousness came returning pain and he knew his smile was mostly a grimace.
“Will,” Nelson called.
He caught a quick glance of Jamieson and then felt a cottony vagueness settle over him and he lost whatever the two men were discussing.
The next time Lee woke he was propped up in the bed so he was half sitting and the sickbay lights were turned low. He looked around enough to determine he was alone, no Chip. He cautiously turned his head until he could see the big clock over the sickbay hatch. 0140. He reached out with his right hand and rested it against the bulkhead. Felt like two-thirds speed. That was good. The vibration was steady and smooth so Seaview must be okay. He tried to think about Chip not sitting beside him but lost the thread of his thoughts in a few moments.
The next time he opened his eyes the admiral was beside his bunk again the sickbay lights burning brightly.
“Good morning.” Nelson offered the welcome glass of water.
“So, um, dare I ask?”
“Almost thirty six hours, we’re heading toward home, we’ll be there in another five days.”
Lee nodded his head slightly, afraid of setting off the pain and was pleased when it didn’t hurt as much as he’d feared. “How’s Pat?”
“He needed about ten stitches but he’s back on duty, sitting down mostly.”
“He’s fine. They found you without any trouble, never saw a patrol until they got to you, where they found what remained of one.” Nelson looked at him quizzically, but didn’t say anything more when Lee shook his head.
“Not what I meant,” Lee said after a moment’s silence.
“He hasn’t said anything to me. Why? Is there something wrong?”
“No, no.” Lee paused, sorry he’d said anything; this wasn’t the admiral’s problem to sort out. “I just wondered…” Lee looked toward the ceiling for a moment and then back at the admiral. “Your homing device, it was brilliant. You saved my life.”
“I’m sorry it was necessary. Chip said the mission was a failure and the rest of the team was killed?”
Lee looked away; he could hear the sound of the gunfire as they approached the beach. Those last ten seconds when they were committed to the landing, beyond the surf line so it would take too long to swim away, already standing, weighed down by the scuba gear and betrayal. Steve and Mike trying to drag Chaffee and Des out of the water while he lay down covering fire. But there’d been nowhere to go; only the rocks across the pebble beach, the rocks full of shooters killing them.
“It didn’t go very well,” he said when he realized he’d been quiet too long. He looked down at the arm that had the IV port; the admiral’s hand was holding his wrist. It was that warm touch that had brought him back from the remembering.
“Not now, time enough later for that, when you’re feeling better.”
Lee shook his head, he didn’t think there would ever be a good time to remember, or ever a time when he wouldn’t. The pale green around Chaffee and Des in the water, the night vision goggles picking up their blood warming the cold northern Pacific water. The sight of men dead when they should have been alive wouldn’t be leaving him soon. He closed his eyes and turned his head away from the admiral but that only made it worse as the pale green of the blood seemed to be painted on his eyelids.
“We’ll be home soon, there’s nothing you need to do except listen to Jamie and get well.”
“Admiral,” Jamieson said, coming up beside Nelson and looking down at Lee. “Could you excuse us for a few minutes, I need to do some bandage changing.”
Nelson gave Lee’s wrist a quick squeeze before rising. “I’ll be back later.”
Lee nodded, suddenly too tired to string together the words necessary to say good-bye.
Jamieson picked up his wrist. “You were looking a little worn out to me.”
“Yeah,” Lee agreed.
“You took a tremendous beating, Skipper,” Jamieson said, seeming to read his mind, “and you lost a lot of blood from that wound in your side. That along with the exposure and infection wore you out, it’s going to be a while before you’re up for much visiting.”
Lee turned his head away from Jamie tired of the whole tedious healing process.
“You’re on the mend, Lee, we’ve gotten the fever down, once that’s gone you’ll start feeling better, I promise.”
Lee nodded his head but didn’t bother to look as Jamieson began messing with the bandage around his middle. He was so tired he couldn’t think and he was worried about Chip.
When next he woke his fever seemed mostly to be gone, he could think clearly and unfortunately he could feel clearly as well. As long as he remained perfectly still the wound in his side was a dull ache. When he tried to move his broken ribs hurt so much he had trouble catching his breath. Of all the things that could happen to a man in a fight broken ribs were the worse. Other things got casts and stitches and salves but broken ribs hurt until they stopped hurting, no medicine for ribs. He lay perfectly still and waited for sleep too tired to do anything else.
“If I help you to sit up do you think you can manage to eat something?” Jamieson gave him his doctor’s smile, which Lee felt no responsibility to return. He was hungry though and considered what Jamieson had said. He knew the sitting up was going to be an unpleasant process and wondered if it was worth it.
“What’re you offering, Jell-O?” Lee said with as sour a look as he could manage.
Jamieson laughed a little and said, “Chicken soup?”
“I’m not sure it’s worth it to me.”
“You eat the soup and I’ll pull the IV.”
Jamieson was gentle and expert in his assistance but it still hurt like the very devil. By the time Lee was sitting with several pillows stuffed behind him what little appetite he’d had was gone.
“Rest for a while, the soup won’t be here for a few minutes.”
Lee nodded his head, exhausted. He was thinking he didn’t seem to bounce back the way he used to when the admiral came in carrying a tray, which he set down on the small table next to the bunk.
“Jamie said you might be up for some company for supper.”
Lee glanced over at Jamieson who had a self-satisfied smile on his face, “Did he?”
A few minutes of fussing about with tables and cups and napkins and Lee was sipping hot soup out of a mug while the Admiral ate his dinner. The process of moving the mug from the table to his mouth was taking most of Lee’s concentration and energy so he was pleased that the admiral was supplying all of the dinner conversation. The monologue seemed to be primarily about a small anemone that Nelson had found in some local water samples that he speculated might be related to another anemone from the Northern Philippine Sea. Since Lee had no recollection of any anemone he let much of the dialogue roll over him while he thought about Nelson sitting beside him and not Chip.
“And so I’m thinking the purple, polka-dotted anemone might well be related to the yellow stripped one,” the admiral finished cheerfully.
It took Lee a moment to process the last comment and turn an apologetic look toward Nelson.
“I’m sorry, sir, I seem to be only marginally attached to my environment at the moment.”
“It’s okay, Lee, I shouldn’t have brought up the whole anemone project. I was supplying dinner conversation when I should have just been supplying company.”
“I do appreciate the company, sorry for my lack of focus.”
“You up to telling me what happened?”
Lee sat silently for a minute trying to think what he could say that wouldn’t require remembering the past three weeks. He could feel the admiral looking at him but he didn’t want to speak, to remember.
“Blown mission from start to finish… never any chance of success. I know we had to try and see what was causing the satellite blackout… but it was hopeless… pointless without better intel…” Lee’s voice trailed off at the end as he used his good hand to gather up the napkin Jamie had placed on top of his blanket. He focused all of his attention on the napkin as he crumpled it up into a ball using his fingers and thumb to push the errant edges into his fist. He didn’t look at the admiral or think about anything but the napkin. He couldn’t seem to fit the whole thing into his palm. He worked on the edges with his fingers trying to push the cloth into his closed hand. The admiral reached over and covered his fist and the napkin with his own hand, stilling Lee’s fingers. The two men sat not speaking until Lee looked up at Nelson.
“I’ll put that on the tray for you,” Nelson said, pulling the napkin from his suddenly slack fingers. “We can talk about this later.”
Lee looked away from Nelson and the napkin, and let his head fall back against the pillows. “I’ve lost track of time.”
“You’ve been back aboard about forty-eight hours.”
Lee didn’t make any comment, forcing his attention away from the conversation. “How’s Pat?”
“He’s on the mend, won’t be running in any races for a few weeks, but he’ll be fine. You want to tell me what the problem is with Chip?”
“Does that mean you don’t want to tell me or you didn’t think I knew there was something wrong?”
“I think it means I’m not coherent enough right now,” Lee said after a moment.
“You’re tired, go to sleep and digest that supper.”
“Thank you, Admiral.”
Nelson stood at the bottom of the stairs in the nose of Seaview and studied Chip. The younger man was leaning on the sill below Seaview’s big windows apparently lost in thought. Something had happened between Chip and Lee, upsetting the equilibrium of their close friendship. Nelson was fairly sure that a large part of it was Lee’s sending Chip and Patterson back to Seaview while he remained to cover their retreat. But he suspected there was more to it than that. He’d tried to ask Lee since he was closer to his young captain than he was to the often-enigmatic Chip. Lee wouldn’t or couldn’t tell him what the problem was, that left Chip.
“Lee’s been asking for you,” Nelson said, walking over to stand beside the other man.
Chip straightened up and turned, obviously surprised by the admiral’s presence. “I’ll stop by tomorrow, it’s late now.”
Nelson walked over to the credenza and poured two mugs of coffee and handed one to Chip. “Sit down, I want to talk to you for a few minutes.”
Chip took the coffee and sat down opposite the admiral at the small conference table. He took a swallow and then placed the cup in front of him. “How’s he doing?” All of Chip’s attention seemed to be focused on his cup as he asked the question.
“He’s sore and still very tired but Will’s found the right combination of antibiotics to beat the fever, so he’s doing better.” In a surprisingly gentle tone of voice Nelson asked, “You want to tell me what’s wrong, why you’re sitting here instead of in sickbay?”
Chip shook his head, never taking his attention off his cup of coffee, “I’ve been trying to figure that out myself. I’m not sure I know, it’s just… he made me so angry.”
“Sending you and Patterson back while he stayed?” Nelson spoke slowly, not looking at Chip but rather studying the dark ocean outside the windows. “He keeps asking for you and when I make your excuses, he says he’s sorry. I knew something had happened.”
“Not only that… I understand why he did it, he was probably right to do it. I’m not sure we could have carried him although we would have given it a good try.” Chip was silent a moment moving his cup around the table.
“I think Patterson and I could have gotten him out even with Pat’s injury, but I couldn’t talk to him about any other plan. He was determined to stay, determined to sacrifice himself, if need be, so we got away. He does it over and over and I can’t reason with him.”
Chip was speaking faster now and Nelson made no effort to stop him. He wasn’t sure Chip could say all of this to Lee, but he needed to say it someone.
“Why? Why does he do that? He’s going to get himself killed and I don’t understand why he does it!” Chip sat back in his chair at this last part and looked over at Nelson meeting his eyes this time. “Why does he do that?”
Nelson smiled slightly thinking that if Lee and Chip had been two women they would have analyzed their relationship and figured each other’s weaknesses and strengths in that first month at the Academy. Being two men they’d gone with the flow, each man accommodating himself to the other but never thinking what made their friendship work. He saw Chip’s mouth start to tighten and realized the other man had misinterpreted his smile.
“Don’t get angry with me now.” Nelson smiled more broadly as he saw Chip put his command look on, all emotion wiped from his face.
“I smiled because I was surprised you didn’t know why Lee keeps putting himself in harm’s way to protect those for whom he feels responsible. I shouldn’t have smiled, forgive me. I’m sure you two have never talked about it. You get angry and you try to protect him. He gets quiet and feels sad because he’s upset you. Not a formula for understanding.”
Nelson could see Chip relaxing as he took a moment to think.
“We aren’t big talkers, I’m more likely to give him a dressing down for trying to get himself killed than try to talk to him about the ‘whys’ of his actions. We aren’t into the ‘get in touch with your feelings’ thing.”
Nelson nodded. He would have been very surprised if Chip and Lee had ever spoken to each other about their friendship. It was a shame that none of them could talk about their affection for each other. He knew they all recognized the unique kind of friendship that had grown up between the three of them in the last year. But he also knew he could no more tell Lee how fond he’d become of him than Chip could.
“This last little stunt though, it was different. I’ve always viewed each event as a single instance. Then, back there in those woods, when he sent Pat and I on and stayed behind… suddenly I could see the whole pattern. It was like a light bulb went off and I could see how many times he’s done that, sent someone out of danger while he stayed behind to take the risk.” Chip was quiet for a moment and then looking down at his cup said softly, “I accused him of having a death wish, but I know he doesn’t and he’s not reckless, he’s actually quite cautious about most things, and then he does something like that and.…” Chip stopped speaking.
Nelson pushed his coffee cup from hand to hand as he searched for the words to explain his thoughts to Chip. “Most of what shapes the midshipmen at Annapolis isn’t the curriculum, it's the traditions of the Academy and the other students. The staff tries to teach what naval officers need to know to run ships and fight wars, but it’s the other students that shape the character of the men that the midshipmen become. I think that more than most of the youngsters Lee came to the Academy looking for ideas of what kind of man he was going to be, a role model if you will.” Nelson glanced over at Chip who nodded back at him. “He found that in you.”
“Me? We were roommates, good friends, but, no, I can’t see that.”
“You were young, too, Chip, not as young as Lee, but young and growing and changing yourself. I had my eye on both of you those first three years when I was teaching at the Academy. You were always the big brother of the pair. You were the one with the social confidence and the sure answers to the tough questions. Even now when you two are off the boat in any sort of a social setting Lee tends to defer to you as the senior partner in your friendship.”
Chip shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, Admiral, that seems like a stretch to me, Lee as little brother, maybe once, maybe at the Academy, but not now, No. Lee knows his own mind and is as assertive as I am.”
“Maybe, but how many captains do you know who would let their XOs tell them to bundle up and wear a hat? You know you’re closer than friends, more like brothers and you’re big brother, the same qualities that make you such a great exec make you a good big brother. When it mattered, when Lee was young and learning what made a man you were one of his role models. I’m not saying the only one, but absolutely a very important one.” Nelson smiled at the bemused look on Chip’s face as he tried to assimilate this idea. “When you see Lee stepping into danger to save someone what you’re seeing is the result of the example you set for him. So the next time you get angry at Lee Crane for going where angels fear to tread you remember who inspired that in him.” Now Nelson was smiling broadly at Chip. “He’s partly your fault, Mr. Morton, so I suggest you continue to bear your share of the burden of keeping him in one piece.”
Chip smiled back at Nelson. “Little brother, huh, well, if he’s still under my influence at all then he’d better know he’s about to get a serious telling off for being stupid and reckless. He shouldn’t have accepted that assignment in the first place, God only knows I’ve been telling him that for over ten years, and he should have let me stay and help him.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Morton, and I wonder why you haven’t told him this?”
Chip looked at his watch. “It’s pretty late,” he said hesitantly.
“He was awake when I left the sickbay half an hour ago.” Nelson didn’t bother mentioning that Lee had been awake and worried about Chip. He knew that Lee could better handle Chip angry and remonstrating about ONI in sickbay than he could handle Chip brooding in the bow of the boat.
“I could check and see if he’s still awake before I turn in,” Chip said, rising from his chair.
“Good idea. Oh and Chip, if I were you I’m not sure I would tell him that you led a team on to that beach in broad daylight to go after him. He might think that was reckless and dangerous.”
Chip gave him a surprised look and then ducked his head sheepishly. “He’ll read it in the log, sir.”
“Yes and he’ll be angry to find out how unnecessarily dangerous a chance you took.”
“It wasn’t unnecessary, sir, he would have been dead if we’d waited until dark to go back for him.”
“Yes, I think you’re right.” Nelson leaned back in his chair and watched Chip as a thoughtful look came over his face, “Go down to sickbay, he’s no doubt waiting for your latest evaluation of ONI.”
“Thank you, sir,” Chip said before turning and heading aft.
Nelson watched him go, thinking the best thing that had ever happened to either officer was an arbitrary room assignment twelve years ago.
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